THE BOYS ARE BACK – IRELAND ’17 PART I
Club Choice Ireland are the experts at tailor made golf packages to the East & South East of Ireland
This is a golf tour company with a difference… when they say ‘experienced’ and ‘personalised’ they mean it. The background to Club Choice Ireland is a father and son duo (Larry & Tiernan Byrne) with over 40 years combined experience in bringing golfers into Ireland. You only need to spend a few minutes in their company to know that they are genuinely passionate about their region as a golfing destination. We get an annual treat to experience it for ourselves and the 2017 version certainly didn’t disappoint.
MG’s Ireland team was unchanged for this year, Bill and I had such a special time in 2016, no-one was going to take our places for this one. Tiernan had sent us into the countryside last year, into the Wicklow Hills and Vale of Avoca, this time we were set for something entirely different. Less mileage – but even more challenging golf.
The gambling man
It all meant an early start, alarm clocks set for 5 am in Leek and Stoke-on-Trent to be sure of getting to Holyhead in time for the 8.55 sailing to Dublin. What a beautiful morning too, not a cloud in the sky as we set off. Stena Line are Club Choice’s official travel partners and their ferries are first class, lots of room on board, various lounges, TV rooms, kid friendly areas, busy duty free shop and a bit of gaming too. Had to mention that, Bill likes a gambler, once our full English was down, he was off to the machines. But judging by his lack of knowledge of nudges and features, I think this is a once a year thing, not sure the missus lets him out much!
A few quid lighter we struck up a card game in the quiet lounge. Bill lost at that as well and as he trudged off utside for a ciggy, a false sense of security came over me, could this be be my week to take a few euro off him on the golf course too?
Dublin port soon came into view, great to see that the weather had stayed with us, no time to linger in Ireland’s fair city though, a game of golf awaited just the other side of the toll tunnel. Tiernan had booked us some serious links golf on this trip, we were here to check out two of CCI’s Dublin based packages, The Waterside House and The Bracken Court packages, each one has a classic seaside track as it’s star golfing turn. It took us no more than 20 minutes to find the first.
Established in 1890, The Island Golf Club is one of the country’s oldest and finest links, featuring highly in the big magazine rankings on a regular basis. The club is set around three North County Dublin estuary complexes, yet such is the nature of the towering dunes and natural hillocks that frame the fairways, you don’t catch much of a glimpse of sea water until the heart of the more open back nine. The Island actually begins with eight successive par fours that face all points of the compass, the seventh is the stand out and toughest too, bumpy links terrain at it’s finest. And as far as the eighth is concerned, don’t talk to me about that. A short four, risk and reward or hit ‘n’ hope as we christened it. I fired one of my mightier blows here and hoped that it might result in a rare eagle putt. Lost ball more like! Things were already starting to turn a bit pear-shaped.
Difficult as they are, you’ll may come to regret it if you’ve not tucked some good points away early, because it ain’t going to get any easier. The back nine is quite breathtaking in places, we proudly halved the tremendous par five 10th with a nine each after firing two tee shots each out of bounds, and then reached the signature, a stunning long par three at 13. It’s all open at this point with estuary views on either side, and it’s a good long hit to find this green.
A mention too for the 14th, out of bounds in the wetlands on the right, sand dunes on the opposite side, in between is the narrowest fairway we have ever seen! The 15th, back inland but as linksy as links gets, and then an uphill par three with some testing run offs.
After all this it came as some surprise to us that you don’t get to stroke index one until you stand on the final tee. But that’s the case, and it’s one long par four. It felt a bit cruel really, but you can’t feel resentment when you play a course as special as this, we won’t forget The Island in a hurry.
How did we play? – As a passionate fan of links golf I rather let myself down, you don’t get away with poor ball striking over this sort of landscape. Bill, a supposedly much higher handicapper, with little warm up prior to our week, was a different animal altogether, he doesn’t hit it far but when he’s on song, he doesn’t miss much either. I gave him nine shots, he needed far less – one up to Bill.
Balbriggan’s Got Talent
Two further visits were in the diary for day one, no great distance to either, there’s an awful lot of close proximity golf in Co Dublin. Balbriggan Golf Club came first, we were met on arrival by current vice-captain Tony Hamilton, and during the visit met a number of other club officials and staff members, on and off course. Balbriggan GC is a very friendly place, and it also has an extremely likeable golf course. Tony took us on a buggy ride, stopping at each hole of this parkland layout.
Founded in 1945, this member run establishment has gone through a modernisation phase in recent years, including the addition of USGA greens and tees. The setting is quite lovely, secluded and peaceful, the course runs across two natural valleys, which give you a few spectacular tee shot views, and a good number of raised putting surfaces to find. Seven water hazards too, the delicious looking corner of the course at 12 and 13 finds them at their most stunning. Plenty of wildlife too, enchanted we were by the many tame duck families who come waddling right up to you, apparently they are regularly fed by the members.
We didn’t play here, Bill made a fatigue based excuse. More likely protecting his lead, he doesn’t fancy his chances as much on parkland courses with less run! But Balbriggan will be high on the wish list when we return to Ireland, a lovely golf course and our host Tony couldn’t have been nicer.
Beaverstown Golf Club is another quality 18 hole slice of rich Irish parkland, this time set a little closer to the coast. The distinctive feature on the golf course are the apple orchards that occupy around 20 acres of the 132 acre site. Our visit was just a fraction too soon to see them in full blossom.
Manager Frank met us outside the clubhouse, and a whistle stop buggy ride around the course ensued, with either Bill or me hanging off the back of the buggy for dear life. We did this sort of thing last year too, it’s all part of the job although Bill got the lions share of the white knuckle part on this, The Island thrashing was still on my mind!
Frank took us to his favourite holes, but I was instantly attracted to the very first (above), a gentle dog leg par four with a water feature on the left of the green and the Rogerstown Estuary acting as a backdrop on the opposite side. A tricky start in store but what a beauty too.
Beaverstown is set on a sandy base with recently laid USGA greens, among further delights are the stroke index one 14th, a long par four over the ditch to an orchard surrounded green. Then the 17th, try to keep your ball dry on this most challenging of par threes.
Another lovely course to finish day one, then it was back to Balbriggan for the night at The Bracken Court Hotel. Situated in the heart of a lively town, an evening out here won’t wear out the shoe leather too much, pubs and bars are in very close proximity. The 4* hotel has a pretty good one of its own, Jack Doyle’s is a traditional Irish pub where good drinks, bar snacks and raucously live music all combine, you could easily be in Dublin itself.
We dined in The Bracken Grill, my lamb shank was delicious and Bill’s steak apparently took as little effort to cut into as did his effort earlier to thrash me on the golf course. And the dessert here……..easier still!
I took the cruel jibes well with gritted teeth, we’d had a few lagers at this point. But I vowed to myself to get some revenge on day two, as it turned out, it was only going to get worse.
In Part II – more epic links at Baltray, the hotel by the sea, and can pride be salvaged at Malahide GC?